Sunday, November 8, 2009

Time for a Vacation

This week in southern Thailand has really felt like rest and
relaxation. It seems we needed a break from our pilgrimage.

David found a somewhat isolated place, Poseiden Bungalows, which also
runs three day live-aboard snorkeling trips out to the Similan Islands
which are about four hours off the coast of Thailand (60 km). After a
few nights in the bungalow and a couple of days getting used to the
warm water of the Andaman Sea, we along with 13 others climbed aboard
and headed out to sea. On the way out we saw a minke whale and flying
fish. We went to about three different snorkeling spots that
afternoon.

We are right on the cusp between monsoon season and high (tourist)
season which is great because it isn't yet crowded, though the weather
can be somewhat unpredictable. Some places had quite a bit of wave
action and others a strong current. Some were blessed with both and a
few had quiet water so that one could focus completely on the rich and
colorful sea life. We swam with very friendly, very large sea turtles
and an electric jelly fish as well as many angel fish, sergeant major
fish, a water snake, parrot fish, unicorn fish, trigger fish and many
others.

David swam at each of the 10 snorkel stops but I passed on a couple
that seemed particularly challenging.

We were all exploring one of the islands, when the winds really picked
up and the waves combined with the wind made it impossible for our
dingy to safely get to shore to pick us up. As we watched, conditions
continued to deteriorate. Fortunately, we were on an island in the
tropics and knew we would survive the elements if we were stranded
overnight. Even more fortunately, however, we were on the island that
houses the Navy Rescue team for these Islands. They saw our
predicament and came to our rescue with their large heavy duty pontoon
boat.

When we got out to our boat, however, our captain and the captain of
the rescue boat realized that the sea was too rough for us to move
directly from one boat to the other so we had to jump out of the raft
and our crew pulled us in with a rope. We all made the transfer
safely, cheered the Thai Navy rescue team, our own very competent crew
and set down to another Thai feast that the cook and her assistant
prepared in her closet of a kitchen amidst the storm and the rescue
operation.

The crew, the guide and the other 13 snorkelers were great to get to
know. It was a very international group with at least 8 nationalities
represented.

We returned to our bungalow for a night, then headed out to the jungle
which is about two hours away. We stayed in a bamboo hut on a raft in
a huge lake surrounded by jungles and limestone mountains. It was
gorgeous and full of exotic sounds. We were able to kayak along the
shore and, thanks to our guide's sharp eye, observe monitor lizards
and langur monkeys, several long tailed macaque, and an iguana. As
evening came, we saw about 15 gibbon monkeys gathering in one tree for
the night.

There was quite a symphony of bird song in the morning as David and I
went for an early morning paddle in a soft warm rain. As we were
having our first coffee, we saw a pair of great hornbills fly above us
and land in a tree and take off again. They are very awkward flyers
and are reminiscent of pterodactyls.

Later in the day we did a short trek with our guide, a couple from
Germany and a Japanese woman. We went over a pass to another lake,
then into a cave filled by stalactites and stalagmites and formations
like none that we had ever seen before. The cave was only discovered
5 years ago and is in quite pristine condition since it is difficult
to get to.

We are back in the bungalow and having spent the morning lounging on
the beach, will have our last evening in this sweet place before we
head to Bangkok to meet our friend Todd and see what unfolds in our
final 10 days.

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